“Not all superheroes wear cape, some remove their helmet and wag their tongue”
Till a week ago, Ross Taylor was on the summit of the run-scoring chart for New Zealand in the longest format. But when Kane Williamson surpassed Taylor to become the leading run-scorer for New Zealand in red-ball format, all he had to say was “It is an honour.”
It indeed is an honour, something that Taylor for the longest time held on his own. It was only fitting that the right-hander, who hails from a Samoan descendancy scored the winning runs when New Zealand lifted their first ICC title in outright fashion.
"In this day and age, I'd be called Luteru, and there'd be no problem. After a while, they gave up and said, 'Just call him Ross.' I've been called Ross ever since,” recalled Taylor, and that’s where Ross ‘stuck’ to him for the rest of his career.
Throughout his career, Taylor had to don multiple hats – captain, scoring runs and being an integral voice in the BlackCaps culture – but his weakness has always been apparent. But his career has been one for the history books and his name has rung around the New Zealand corridor bold and loud.
The early days
For a young boy growing up in a little village away from the limelight, playing for New Zealand was always the biggest achievement. But Taylor went from strength to strength, switching a hockey stick for a cricket bat, and farms for cities. Despite having glaring weaknesses, never at any point in Taylor’s career did he run short of determination and commitment.
Unlike the others growing up in the region, Taylor didn’t have too much time for rugby, but his sole interest was always in cricket. If not for the endless bludgeons during his formative years, the powerful leg-side slog would have only been a mystery. And, If Dermot Hurslton Payton didn’t put his life on the line, we would have never seen the best of Taylor.
"He never missed a session. Ever. I didn't have to instruct him. His shot selection was impeccable. Full and wide, cover drive. Full and on middle and leg, on-drive. Short and wide, cut. You could tell he was a talent. He was just so natural. It wasn't a case of rebuilding him or pulling apart his technique. It was near perfect,” Payton told ESPNCricinfo.
Samoans playing cricket was pretty rare, in fact, there were only two from the region to have played for New Zealand – Murphy Su’a and Taylor. If you listen to Taylor, you would die wondering where this aggression with the bat comes from, he is perhaps politer than the politest of human beings. But his records were anything but polite.
With New Zealand losing big names – one after the other – the baton was in the hands of Taylor, and he did in fact for most of his primitive years seek for that. When he made his Test debut in 2007, it was a pretty young team, and the right-hander had a very bitter first-hand experience of what the highest level of the game was. It was daunting, it was unforgetting, and most importantly, it was unforgiving.
But Taylor stood the test of time, scoring multiple centuries against England, both home and away. Then in 2011, when he became the leader of the BlackCap pack, he led them to a famous win in Australia, a country that has always been a thorn for them. It wasn’t just that, he continued that merry run with a series win over Sri Lanka, away from home.
In the span of just a few years, the right-hander went from strength to strength, and his talent had gone from one country to another. From one headline of a paper to a thumbnail of a YouTube video, Taylor was all over the place. But his world would only come crashing down when the then-head coach Mike Hesson wanted Brendon McCullum to replace him as the captain.
The controversy that embroiled the drama that succeeded would have ended the strongest of personalities, but Taylor once again rose well above that phase. If there’s anything that could define Taylor’s playing days – it would be his ability to rise up – from the dead.
If the captaincy debacle wasn’t enough, there were suggestions that he would find it difficult to play under another captain. Even before the time McCullum was made the captain, there were doubts about whether Taylor was cut off that captaincy cloth.
"Did I always want to be captain? I always thought I could do the job. In an ideal world it would have been nice to get the job a couple of years later," Taylor admitted to ESPNCricinfo. "In saying that, I enjoyed the captaincy from the perspective that it made me a better batsman, having that added responsibility."
Once that was gone, it was the eye condition that almost ended his career, but the right-hander was far from the one who gave up. If anything, every time someone doubted him, he knew that he had to stand and stand tall to prove a point. That was something that he enjoyed doing, and that was something that he swore by.
The record that stands out as a legend
Despite all the shortcomings, Taylor’s legacy as a BlackCap isn’t one that is up for debate. Superstars have come and gone, but Taylor in the 50-over format has stood tall in the testing time. The right-hander has scored 8607 runs, at an average of 47.55, with a strike-rate of 83.3.
Interestingly, in 39 of 220 innings, the right-hander remained not-out, something that to date remains a record for a top-order batter. In fact, Taylor has also scored the most number of centuries in the 50-over format for the country, and the difference between him and Martin Guptill is three centuries.
Only Stephen Fleming (1075 runs) has scored more runs than him in ODI World Cups, which goes on to show what Taylor has achieved as a batter. In 2019 during New Zealand’s run to the final, Taylor played a massive role, and you could see the gutted look on his face when the BlackCaps fell narrowly short of the Three Lions in the summit clash.
If you think he was just a white-ball specialist, you are absolutely wrong. Taylor holds the unique feat of being the first batter in international cricket to play 100 matches in all the formats – T20Is, ODIs and Tests – and has till recent time been the best New Zealand batter in the red-ball format.
Before his record was broken, in the longest format, the right-hander had scored 7655 runs in 195 innings, the most runs for a Kiwi batter. Numerous hundreds, including ones in England, had kick-started Taylor’s career. But it was the 290 in Australia, one that really showed the world that Taylor was a beast, in a country where New Zealand batters have often struggled.
Even when he retired, having scored the most international runs, most centuries and plucked the most number of catches (116), Taylor said it was time to move on when he was only 37. If you think that was all, his last involvement in the longest format was picking up a wicket with the ball. He’s done it all.
“It’s been an amazing journey, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have represented my country for as long as I have,” Taylor said in a statement.
“It’s been such a privilege to play with and against some of the greats of the game and to have created so many memories and friendships along the way. But all good things must come to an end, and the timing feels right for me.”
39 years ago, on this day, Luteru Ross Poutoa Lote Taylor was born, and the rest is history.
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